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Survey: Dress codes are way too confusing (especially if you have a teen girl)

TODAY polled nearly 17,000 people between the ages of 18 and 64 to get to the heart of what people really think about dress codes — in schools and beyond.
/ Source: TODAY

Schools across the country are back in session, and when it comes to style, that means one thing: Everyone is talking about dress codes, from students to teachers to parents.

Whether you love them or hate them, dress codes have been a hot topic in recent years, with many schools coming under fire for policies that unfairly target young women. But dress code issues also exist in the workplace, and some companies are re-thinking what office attire should mean in the digital age.

TODAY polled nearly 17,000 people between the ages of 18 and 64 to find out what they really think about dress codes.

TODAY dress code survey

One key finding? Most of you think dress codes in schools are necessary. Many even believe they help kids do better in class.

  • 78% said children and teens need standards for school attire
  • 22% said children and teens should be able to wear what they want to school
  • 69% agree school dress codes increase children's sense of of discipline and ability to achieve
  • 31% believe school dress codes stifle children's mental freedom and creativity

But even if most people are in favor of school dress codes, they definitely don't understand them — especially parents of teen girls, who are often the ones penalized for violating the dress code. Nearly all (94 percent) of parents of teen girls and 85 percent of respondents in general agreed that there used to be clear standards of how to dress in different settings, but those standards are less clear today.

TODAY dress code survey

If you've got a teen in school, you know prom is a time when the dress code is particularly stressful, but nonetheless, you probably think it's necessary: three-quarters of our respondents said schools should use prom dress codes.

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People are also mostly in favor of having dress codes in the workplace. But if they're not clearly stated or enforced, that can cause some tension at the office. We were surprised to learn how many people have been in work situations where someone else's attire caused discomfort:

  • 35% have felt uncomfortable about a co-worker's attire
  • 16% have had an issue because of their workplace attire
  • 12% have complained about a co-worker's attire to HR

As for why people don't like dress codes at work, there are lots of reasons. The most common? Temperature. (And for women, there's some science behind this complaint: Research shows that office air conditioning may be biased toward temps that feel more comfortable for men.)

Take a look at some of the other reasons we heard from respondents:

TODAY dress code survey

Overall, it's clear that people think dress codes are sometimes necessary, but are pretty split over the reasons why, but one thing is clear: If they exist, they need to be clear and fair.

And until that happens, it seems that the dress code controversies we hear about so often aren't going anywhere.